Pilots' union takes flight subsidy fight to Reagan airport

Pilots' union takes flight subsidy fight to Reagan airport
© Getty Images

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) union is taking the fight over foreign airline flight subsidies that has roiled the nation's aviation industry to Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan National Airport. 

The union said Wednesday that is launching a new campaign called "A Deal Is A  Deal" to persuade lawmakers, who frequently fly through Reagan airport, to look into allegations that Middle Eastern airlines are receiving unfair subsidies from their home governments. 

The pilots' union and other groups with ties to major U.S. airlines have alleged that Middle Eastern competitors like Emirates Airlines and Qatar and Etihad airways are receiving payments that violate the spirit of the Open Skies agreements between the U.S. and the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which own the Gulf airlines. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The pilots' union said Wednesday that it is running ads at Washington, D.C.'s Reagan airport, which does not have international flights, but is popular with lawmakers, to spread the word about the alleged Open Skies violations. The union said the ads will also run in Capitol Hill publications and online this fall. 

“Open Skies only works when all countries play by the same rules, and most countries do just that,” ALPA President Tim Canoll said in a statement about the ad campaign. 

“Unfortunately, Qatar and the UAE are breaking the Open Skies agreements by pumping billions of dollars in government subsidies and unfair benefits into their state owned carriers in an effort to dominate global aviation," Cannoll continued. "Now that the government docket is closed, it’s time for the Obama Administration to address the subsidies that are putting tens of thousands of American aviation jobs at risk.”

The fight over foreign airline subsidies has become a turbulent battle that has engulfed the nation’s aviation industry.

Major U.S. airlines like Delta, United and American, known as the Big Three, are pushing the Obama administration to launch a review of the claims with the Middle Eastern governments, which would involve a delicate set of negotiations that critics have said would upset other areas of foreign relations.

The Gulf carriers have denied violating the Open Skies agreements, and they have argued that U.S. airlines have historically received subsidies from the federal government at times of distress, such as the period after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

"People simply can't believe that we have an airline of this size in 30 years, buying huge numbers of aircraft, brand new, successfully deploying them on markets all over the world and making quite a lot of money," Emirates CEO Tim Clark said in an interview with the British BBC network in June. 

"That's kind of not how the airline industry has performed over the last 50 years, I'm sorry to say," Clark concluded then. 

Travel industry and consumer groups have largely sided with the Persian Gulf carriers in the Open Skies flight, accusing the airlines of trying to reduce competition for international flights. 

Unions that represent major U.S. airline workers like ALPA, meanwhile, have formed campaigns to pressure the Obama administration to question the Persian Gulf carrier subsidies.

"For the past 10 years, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates have received more than $42 billion in unfair subsidies and benefits from the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, distorting the global aviation marketplace," the pilots' union said Wednesday. 

"This violation of these international agreements threatens the careers of thousands of highly trained U.S. pilots and others in the aviation industry," the statement continued.